Can probiotics really boost your mood?

We've always considered probiotics as being beneficial for gut health, but there are researchers that say probiotics might be good at lifting your mood as well. But the reason why this is the case is a bit convoluted.

Harvard says research shows a physiological connection between the gut and the brain in a link called the gut-brain axis, and as a result what affects the brain affects your gut, and vice versa. As proof, Harvard says gastrointestinal issues like irritable bowel syndrome or Crone's Disease can trigger anxiety or depression. And when your brain's flight or fight sense is triggered by a stressful event, you could end up with a digestive problem, like an upset stomach. 

"These new findings may explain why a higher-than-normal percentage of people with IBS and functional bowel problems develop depression and anxiety. That's important, because up to 30 to 40 percent of the population has functional bowel problems at some point," Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Neurogastroenterology Jay Pasricha says (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

Where do probiotics fit into all this?

In a study published in the Annals of General Psychiatry, Canadian researchers say most patients suffering from depression are given medicines that change brain activity so their symptoms improve. But with research pointing to the communication network between the brain, gastrointestinal tract (gut), and the central nervous system, it could be time to look at whether probiotics, which help the gut, could treat symptoms of depression in humans, too. And while researchers say they found positive results, the type, dose, and duration of the probiotic treatment varied so widely that it was difficult to say whether the treatment actually worked. "The evidence for probiotics alleviating depressive symptoms is compelling but additional double-blind randomized control trials in clinical populations are warranted to further assess efficacy," researchers Caroline Wallace and Roumen Milev wrote (via ResearchGate).

Probiotics aren't a substitute for antidepressants

But if you're on antidepressants, don't dump them just yet because Johns Hopkins gastroenterologist Linda Lee says more work is needed to work out how probiotics actually lift people's moods. "Right now, we don't have a lot of proof that taking probiotics is going to change depression or anxiety. It's an attractive theory, but we need a lot more research to guide us, she says (via Johns Hopkins Medicine).

So if you are on antidepressants, dumping those in favor of probiotics isn't the best thing to do; but if the news cycle is stressing out your gut, a good probiotic from a reputable company may be a good thing to try, because as Lee says, if the probiotic eases your gut issues, that will probably be enough to make you feel better. Oh, and stop watching the news.